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To Your Health: NLM update Transcript

Improving the flu vaccine: 11/13/2017

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Greetings from the National Library of Medicine and MedlinePlus.gov

Regards to all our listeners!

I'm Rob Logan, Ph.D., senior staff, U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).

Here is what's new this week in To Your Health, a consumer health oriented podcast from NLM, that helps you use MedlinePlus to follow up on weekly topics.

While there are complications to boost current coverage, health researchers are committed to developing a more effective flu vaccine, explains an interesting news article recently published in Science.

Science reports the most commonly used flu shots currently protect from 10 to 60 percent of the people who receive them. Science adds a bad flu season can kill about 50,000 Americans.

In response, a leading University of Minnesota epidemiologist tells Science (and we quote): '10% to 60% protection is better than nothing' (end of quote). Yet, the epidemiologist adds (and we quote): '..it's a terribly inadequate vaccine for a serious public health threat' (end of quote).

Science explains researchers formerly believed the flu vaccine offered solid protection if it was a good match to circulating strains, which have been re-evaluated annually for many years. Indeed, Science reports research from the 1940s to the 1970s suggested 70 to 90 percent of the U.S. population were covered post-vaccination for annual flu outbreaks.

However, Science explains scientists now know the former tests used to detect efficacy were flawed and sometimes exaggerated the protection flu vaccine recipients received.

More recently, Science notes researchers found mutations occur as the flu circulates, which sometimes offsets the vaccine's effectiveness. Other recent research suggests some mutations can occur within the actual vaccine strain, which undermines the flu vaccine's protective capacity.

Besides new studies devoted to the improved detection of mutations, other researchers tell Science that it also may time to change the technique to select annual vaccine strains. For example, Science reports vaccine makers long have tested ferrets instead of humans to determine the vaccine's efficacy. Science explains some genetic testing on humans also might boost the flu vaccine's reach.

A prominent Canadian epidemiologist additionally tells Science that flu vaccine experts publically hesitate to address the shot's shortcomings because they do not wish to exacerbate the reluctance among some adults to get vaccinated. As Science notes, however, the debate about flu vaccine is more about its reach than its safety.

The Canadian epidemiologist adds (and we quote): "…I don't think it's antivaccine to want your vaccine program to be the best that it can be' (end of quote).

In response to ongoing concerns, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, tells Science he intends to organize a consortium of experts to improve the effectiveness of flu vaccines in the U.S. and other nations. Fauci tells Science (and we quote): 'We've got to do better' (end of quote).

Meanwhile, some key facts about the seasonal flu vaccine (from the U.S Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention) are available within the 'resources' section of MedlinePlus.gov's flu shot health topic page.

MedlinePlus.gov's flu shot health topic page additionally provides links to the latest pertinent journal research articles, which are available in the 'journal articles' section. Clinical trials that may be occurring in your area can be found in the 'clinical trials' section. You can sign up to receive updates about flu shots as they become available on MedlinePlus.gov.

To find MedlinePlus.gov's flu shot health topic page, please type 'flu shot' in the search box on MedlinePlus.gov's home page, then, click on 'flu shot (National Library of Medicine).' MedlinePlus.gov also has a health topic page devoted to flu.

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It was nice to be with you. Please join us here next week and here's to your health!